What Do You Call a Person Who Writes Poems That Don’t Rhyme?

In Baker’s novel The Anthologist, Paul Chowder believes all poems should rhyme.  Also, he’s having some trouble with his girlfriend, smaller troubles with his dog and a mouse, and he has an intro to an anthology he needs to finish.  This isn’t “save the earth from a falling satellite” kind of trouble, but enough to keep me reading.  I think it was Vonnegut who advised writers to do at least something to keep a reader interested even if it was only jamming a piece of food between the protagonist’s teeth and causing him or her to want to get it out.  The good stuff in The Anthologist for me was in the clever and/or funny lines. Here’s a couple of them:

On Tetris, “that computer game where the squares come down relentlessly and overwhelm your mind with their crude geometry and make you peck at the arrow keys like some mindless experimental chicken and hurry and panic and finally you turn your computer off.  And you sit there thinking, Why have I just spend an hour watching squares drop down a computer screen?”

My Tetris is Probably Madden Football

On “poems” that don’t rhyme:  “That’s what I call a poem that doesn’t rhyme–it’s a plum.  We who write and publish our nonrhyming plums aren’t poets, we’re plummets.  Or plummers.”

Torgerson Baker The Anthologist Read Books

Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist

The laws governing romantic breaking up:  Paul notes when he sees his ex girlfriend, “If you break up with someone, you get to go out with someone else.”

Except for when my eyes glazed over during the longish explanations about iambic pentameter, I liked this book enough to recommend it.  It served as a kind of argument for me that I ought to think about giving up all the Goodreads, WordPress, and tenure track paperwork stuff and maybe move up to Maine or down to North Carolina and stick a lawn chair out in a shallow creek bed.  I could send my books out from there via email, except for there’s that thing about needing a paycheck.  Paul Chowder, the protagonist, is in sore need of one of those too.

This book had a lot of writing advice in it.  I might bother to type it all up and share it if anyone seems to be interested to ask for it via comment.  If any of you out there are poets or plummers, I’d like to hear what you think of this book.

Summer Camp, Complicated Relationships, and Maine: Jane Roper’s Eden Lake

In order to win Jane Roper’s novel Eden Lake I had to agree to read the book and participate in the accompanying Goodreads discussion as a part of The Next Best Book Club.  I am a finicky reader who has probably put down at least as many books as I’ve begun, and so I wanted to make sure I had a decent chance to like the story okay before I agreed to have it shipped to me.  I could already see myself ten pages into 300, not enjoying the read, but having to stay with it because I said I would.

I went to Amazon and checked out the opening pages.  I was happy with how things got started:  “Just before noon on the morning after Memorial Day, Eric filled the tank of the John Deere, started the engine and rolled out of the barn into broad sunlight.”  One of my favorite authors, Richard Ford, often starts books on a holiday (Independence Day, Easter) and there’s a lot competent in Jane’s sentence:  it placed me firmly in time and in the sort of setting where there would be a John Deere and a barn.  I knew I wasn’t in Queens anymore, and felt like my reading life was safe for the week I put it in  Jane’s control.

Jane Roper Eden Lake William Torgerson Maine Summer Camp Relationships 80s Love on the Big Screen

Jane Roper's Eden Lake

Maine, complicated relationships, secrets, and summer camp.  These are the primary ingredients of this story that bring together a group of brothers and sisters to run a summer camp that their parents ran when they were growing up.  There are surprises here—excellent ones—and they are spaced out nicely that in such a way that just when I got comfortable with how things were going, just when I thought I could see what was going to happen next, there was something that threw me for a good reading loop and reinvigorated my interest in the story.

I’ve heard several writers say that they don’t have one idea for a book, usually the book comes when several ideas seem to collide and this book has a good bit of that going on.  There are romantic and familial complications along with the tricky balance that running a camp that’s good for kids must be while at the same time paying attention to the fact that there are bills to be paid.  “Materialism is the opiate of the masses,” one character quips in part about all the upgrades to the camp over the years (i.e. a climbing wall).  Another remembers how in the old days the camp was supposed to be, “A vision of what the world might be.”  That last line, it reminds me of something fiction can accomplish as well.  Eden Lake creates a world I was thankful to have visited, enough so that I still haven’t stopped thinking about packing up the car and heading north to see if I could find some version of it.

Jane Roper Eden Lake William Torgerson Love on the Big Screen Maine Summer Camp Relationships 80s Love on the Big Screen

Click Here to Watch a Very Funny Book Trailer

Roper, Jane. Eden Lake. Boston: Last Light Studio, 2011. Print.

Prof. Torg’s take on Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD

If you have a Facebook page, own one of the latest cell phones, blog, or tweet, then you ought to at least check out chapter 13 in Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad.  In the following quote from the last chapter, a once big-time music executive laments about the state of the business.  Feel free to substitute ART in the place of MUSIC.  Here’s Bennie:

“The problem is,” Bennie went on, “it’s not about sound anymore.  It’s not about music.  It’s about reach.  That’s the bitter pill I had to swallow” (page 312).

Whose taste in art is for sale?

So when Bennie says “reach,” he’s talking Tweets, he’s talking Facebook Friends, and he’s talking hits on somebody’s blog.  The last chapter takes place in the future—and she could just almost be talking about right now—we all have to wonder if a book or album or any kind of art is really good or it’s just being promoted very well.  What is the Tweeter getting paid to say that this new artist is the next Bob Dylan?  What perks or gifts have been sent the book blogger’s way?  I just attended a BEA blogging panel where there was talk of ethics in the blogging world.

It may or may not have occurred to you that a novel can pay-off in various ways:  you can be made to feel as if you get to know the characters like people, the text can make you think, cause you to believe you are getting smarter, or make you bawl your eyes out or want to break stuff.  Another pleasing feature of a text can be the language, the words the writer chooses and the ways that the writer puts the words together in the form of sentences.  Egan’s text has that feature.  There are sentences beyond this one that would make for better examples of word choice but there are some original choices here—prewallet, overhandled, Sow’s Ear—and the clever detail of the guy who drinks flakes of gold.  An expensive habit, especially these days when an ounce of the stuff would cost over $1500.  This quote comes from the first story (notice also that it is a long sentence, not an always easy thing to pull off) when Sasha remembers stealing a wallet from a woman in the restroom while she was on a date.  We’ll also hear about Bennie here and we get to see him in the stories that follow.  He’s worth meeting.  Now here’s Egan’s sentence:

“Prewallet, Sasha had been in the grip of a dire evening:  lame date (yet another) brooding behind dark bangs, sometimes glancing at the flat-screen TV, where a Jets game seemed to interest him more than Sasha’s admittedly overhandled tales of Bennie Salazar, her old boss, who was famous for founding the Sow’s Ear record label and who also (Sasha happened to know) sprinkled gold flakes into his coffee—as an aphrodisiac, she suspected—and sprayed pesticides in his armpits.”

I tore that brown thing out on the side and used it as a bookmark.

This is a novel-in-stories, and I loved the first two.  I moved very logically with Sasha the kleptomaniac to her once boss Bennie in the second story who drinks the gold flakes and picks up his son from a previous marriage.  Most of the characters in the book are connected to the music business.  Egan almost lost me on the third story which takes place on an African Safari.  I felt internally frustrated as I was reading and trying to link each new story to the ones which had come before it.  On page eighty-seven, I wrote in the margins:  “I don’t know what the hell is going on or where I am.”

I gave up on trying to connect the stories and just tried to live in each one as a separate world.  I’d say this reading tactic helped, but really I think what happened is the stories got more interesting.  There were many good stories in a row and then on page two hundred and eight, I knew right where I was.  The stories were puzzling together.  I could see where all the pieces might go.  And then Chapter 12 is a Power-Point slide journal.  I don’t generally go for the story that could be called gimmicky.

I was just at a Writers Conference at Wesleyan University in Connecticut and most of the table moaned when I held up the book and showed off some of the slides.  One student is doing an MFA graphic novel thesis.  Suddenly, she was more interested in the book, and another guy at the table said, “I’ll never read a story like that.”

Fine, readers have their tastes I guess.  For me, Egan and The Goon Squad had won me over by the time the Power Point came up.  By the fifth slide I was laughing and my wife was wondering what was up.  It’s great the way I was taught by the text how to read it.  I say Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad is one you ought to read if you’ve got grown up and thinking tastes in reading.  I do.

Citation Information:

Egan, Jennifer. A Visit From the Goon Squad. New York: Anchor Books,    2011. Print.

Drop me a note if you want:

william.torgerson (at) gmail.com